Hunting at Night
The night of the council meeting, all the children in the village were sent to bed early. I was no exception, but I stayed awake, tumbling out of the house and into the fields as the sun sent honey-colored rays to stretch shadows across the town while the grownups disappeared into the night. Children caused too much ruckus playing in the hall foyer, so they all had to stay home. Or so mama said.
All the adults went into the meeting hall and I went into the woods. I wasn’t supposed to go there, but something about this night felt different. I felt bolder. Early night was the time all the animals came out anyway, so I settled against an old tree with my little sack of bread and apples and waited. I was hoping to see a rabbit, or maybe – if I was lucky – some deer.
I could hear yelling, cheering maybe, from the meeting hall, and it made me frown. Didn’t they know they would scare the animals? I crept a bit further into the woods and settled down again, this time under a scrubby bush. Turned out my moving was a good idea; soon enough a ground owl came out, cooing at itself quietly as its wings stretched to the growing moonlight. If I crept closer, I could almost touch it. Maybe. I bit into an apple, watching.
The explosion of feathers scared me more than the gunshot that echoed from across the field.
A silver-furred fox appeared as if created by the first rays of moonlight, pouncing on the owl before it or I could blink. For a moment, I thought it got away; the wings pounded against the air hard enough to make my hair rustle like wind. I realized soon enough that the poor bird’s fight was in vain; the fox was too big, too hungry. A scream echoed from the meeting hall, but I didn’t hear it. I was watching the owl die.
The fox backed away from its prize, the bird flopping on the soft ground of the woods. It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. With a growl, the fox scooped up the creature and disappeared into the shadows.
It was then I realized I was holding my breath. And it was then I realized more people were screaming, calling out my name into the darkness of the night. I crept from the woods, blinking at the police lights flashing in front of the meeting hall.
Mama told me later that old Mr. Fox had shot the mayor in the middle of the meeting. No one knew why, and he died before his trial. Some people were just that way, slipping in and out of things like a fox in the woods.
I didn’t sneak out again for a long time.